Time for Idaho to break the barrier of transparency in Higher Education

Erik Makrush Higher Education

Since the inception of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, we have been leading the charge for an accountable local and state government. Today, we continue fight for transparency and fiscal responsibility at all levels of government. At the 2011 Legislative Preview hosted by the Idaho Freedom Foundation, Senate and House leadership acknowledged that while the state has made significant strides over the past several years, there is still much work that must be done.

In Idaho and throughout the nation, one of the most difficult governmental entities to penetrate through the walls of bureaucracy is that of Higher Education. The primary key indicators that should be made available are performance data and financial accountability. There is either a lack of data, an unwillingness to track key indicators, or increasing layers of red tape that prevent information from being made available.

However, in Texas, the Texas Public Policy Foundation has worked with the Regents of the Universities, the Legislature and Governor’s office recently and taken longer strides that break down these barriers. Texas A&M University-College Station recently issued what amounted to a profit-and-loss statement measuring department and faculty output. Professors’ salaries were measured against the tuition they brought in via students taking their classes and the amount of grant money they were generating for the institution.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article about the progress and changes being made in Texas. The momentum being gained in Texas is receiving national attention, elected officials and citizens in other states are calling for similar reforms. With the state level budgets being tightened across the board, transparency allows the citizens to hold our public colleges and universities accountable for the taxpayer’s dollars.

What needs to be emphasized here is that the state’s focused efforts on transparency are not an attack on academics. It is an effort to let taxpayers see exactly how efficiently their money is being spent and to give students a greater sense of instructor quality before selecting a course.

Idahoans make a massive investment in our public colleges and universities—through hundreds of millions of our tax dollars, student tuition, and individual and corporate philanthropy. Especially in uncertain financial times, it is essential that the public have convenient access to the sort of information that will help them judge whether they are getting an acceptable return on that investment. Texas has taken a brave first step toward providing the public with that sort of information. Now it is time for our other public colleges and universities to join the movement.

We call upon Governor Otter and Idaho’s legislature to adopt significant changes that will make available performance records of instructors, changes to Idaho Code that mandates all levels of government to put their check registries on-line, including public colleges and universities. The State purse strings will need to be tightened again this coming year – these tools will allow for clarity of spending at public institutions and local entities to the citizenry of Idaho.